Categories
Living in Society

Wildflowers

Wildflowers on the Lake Macbride State Park trail, May 26, 2021.

Fourteen months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, it was time to get the newer car serviced. For the most part, the 2002 Subaru sat in the garage or driveway during the pandemic. Wednesday I drove it to town, dropped it at the shop, and walked home along the Lake Macbride State Park trail. It was a near perfect day for a long walk, with clear skies and ambient temperatures in the mid 70s.

Rain is today’s forecast, as it has been for the last two weeks. We haven’t gotten much rain, only enough to retard gardening progress. It looks like drought will be more Iowa’s problem this growing season, although there has been enough moisture here.

In an effort to stop taking a post-operative opioid pain killer, I skipped a dose yesterday afternoon. I’ll likely skip another dose at 11 a.m. today and if the pain is subsiding, switch back to Ibuprofen (or nothing) before bedtime. It was useful to have access to a strong pain killer.

I’ve been mostly out of the garden since I put the tomatoes in and need to finish up initial planting with Guajillo chilies, eggplant, cucumbers, squash, pumpkins, cantaloupes, and acorn squash in plot seven. I also need to weed… a lot.

I’ve been reading Mark Bittman’s new book Animal, Vegetable, Junk: A History of Food from Sustainable to Suicidal. It presents a broad history of food in society, focusing on the detrimental aspects of agriculture. I’m reading the chapter on branding — the rise of Chiquita, Campbell’s, Heinz, Kraft and others. In my autobiography there is a section about the rise of grocery stores and branded prepared foods, so Bittman provides a great background for that work just when I need it. The current average rating on Goodreads is 3.88 which seems about right. I can’t say there is much new to me in the book yet he does part of my research for me.

At 9 a.m. this morning there is a 100% chance of rain, according to my weather application. As soon as the sun rises at 5:36 a.m., I plan to grab my spade and turn over as much of plot seven as I can before it starts. After being waylaid for a week, I’m ready to get back to the garden.

Categories
Kitchen Garden

Spring Burn Pile

Spring burn pile April 22, 2021.

Thermal energy came from the pile of white ashes on this year’s tomato patch. It warmed my hands. The embers will exhaust their fuel soon and I’ll spread them on the ground after they cool. Tomatoes will be the last to be planted in a few weeks.

The burn pile was mostly branches from the felled oak tree. Yesterday I cleared three garden plots for spading, tilling, and then planting: more steps on the path to a productive garden.

It looks like Tuesday night’s hard frost killed most of the beets and damaged broccoli, kale and collards. I have plenty of seeds and seedlings for replanting. First we’ll see if the bigger plants recover before yanking them out.

The Washington Post published an article about transportation and the shift to electric vehicles. It gave reasonable consideration to the operating costs of such vehicles, and the trade offs between operating a gasoline powered vehicle and going electric. I found if the car gets parked most of the time, very little gasoline is burned.

Thus far in 2021, I spent $36 on gasoline; in all of 2020, $492; and in 2019, $930. The coronavirus pandemic curtailed our driving and reduced how much gasoline we purchased. Unless one of us returns to working a job, the gasoline we burn for transportation should be minimal.

All the same, the news in the Post article about the inefficiency of internal combustion engines was eye-opening.

Most internal combustion engine cars are so inefficient that the vast majority of energy produced by burning gas gets lost as heat or wasted overcoming friction from the air and road. In other words, instead of filling my car’s 16.6-gallon tank, I might as well put 14 gallons of that gas in an oil drum, light it on fire and watch the smoke drift upward.

Washington Post, March 30, 2021.

When you put it that way, of course we’ll look at buying an electric car. We need to stop burning fossil fuels as quickly as we can.

When I burn brush on a garden plot I’m releasing carbon into the atmosphere, along with returning minerals to the soil. However, what I’m doing is already part of the carbon cycle and therefore a renewable process. University of Iowa chemistry professor Betsy Stone explained it to me:

“It’s considered to be a renewable fuel because we have that carbon cycle going on,” Stone said. “With fossil fuels, we’re releasing fossilized carbon. It goes into the atmosphere and takes millions of years to get back to fossilized form again.”

Paul Deaton, Iowa City Press Citizen, Oct. 7, 2015.

I cut the stump of the oak tree tall so I could sit on it while contemplating the garden or needing a rest. Yesterday, while figuring out where to plant things it occurred to me burning brush was a good thing. I also thought we should probably get an electric vehicle.

While the first burn is done, I’ll be sitting on that stump coming up with ideas more often. Some of them will make their way into doing things.

Categories
Environment

Climate Change Response

Bridge over calm, polluted water, April 6, 2021.

In March I wrote Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks about the climate crisis as follows:

I hope you will support the efforts of the Biden administration to act to mitigate the effects of our changing climate. Naturally I’m curious about your views on how you might address the effects of climate change while in the U.S. Congress. The approach of the Biden administration regarding mitigation of climate change is such there should be many areas in which to work with them without supporting an overarching environmental bill. I look forward to hearing your policy stances and how you can help address climate change while you are in the Congress. Thank you for your public service.

Here is her unedited response. It is not what I expected.

Received April 19, 2021 via email.
Categories
Environment

Introducing Myself, Again

Leftover seedlings

This is the text of an email sent this morning to the small group of Climate Reality Leadership Corps participants I am mentoring this spring. Every time I introduce myself, it seems like I am re-inventing who I am. Eventually all the stories will add up.

Welcome to the spring 2021 Climate Reality Leadership Corps training. I am Paul Deaton and will be your mentor. We’re looking forward to your participation!

Before I get too far, if you received this email and no longer plan to participate in the training just hit reply and let me know. As of last night’s mentor training, more than 4,700 people had RSVP’d for the training. There are 300 mentors.

I will be your mentor for both the training and as you begin to perform acts of leadership after the training. I use the pronouns he/him. I was born in Iowa and now live in a rural, Eastern part of the state.

I participated in the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 and have been working on environmental issues, in addition to a career, ever since. I completed a career in transportation and logistics in 2009 and fully retired during the coronavirus pandemic. I attended the 2013 Climate Reality Leadership Corps training in Chicago and was a mentor at the 2015 Cedar Rapids, Iowa training. For me, Climate Reality has been a portal to diverse climate action all over the planet. I learned a lot and am here to help you do the same.

In retirement I spend more time writing. I started a blog in 2007 and am currently working on a book-length project. I am an avid gardener and last night I had to put a space heater in my small, portable greenhouse because of a frost warning. I start most of my own seedlings and spend a lot of time in my kitchen garden.

During my career I spent time in Texas, which is where everyone in our small group lives. One consulting project was near Sweetwater where I stayed on a 5,000 acre cotton farm during the rattlesnake roundup. (All the motel space was booked). I learned Texas is a large, diverse state. I look forward to getting to know you and other group members.

I plan to follow the lead of the Climate Reality staff as a mentor. I’m here to help as much or as little as you want. The Climate Reality staff continues to release information about the training and will up until the first day. As they do, I’m reading it and asking questions to prepare for our experience. One of the main things I will do is host the small group sessions via Zoom after each of four streamed general sessions. I want to assure you everyone’s voice is welcome to be heard during our small group meeting.

If you have questions, email is the best way to reach me. As the training takes shape, I may send an additional group email with any update. Staff will be emailing a lot, so I will keep mine to a minimum.

I hope you are as excited as I am for the training. Let me know how I can help.

Categories
Environment

Solar Arrays and Politicians

Sunset in Colorado Springs on July 11, 2011

Earth Day is coming and politicians have been reviewing Iowa’s solar electricity generation capacity. State Rep. Ras Smith posted about his trip to a solar array in Decorah. Iowa Lieutenant Governor Adam Gregg, Senator Joni Ernst, and Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks attended the dedication of a solar array in Wapello last week. The support for solar was bipartisan.

It’s no surprise. Solar arrays require no fuel except free sunlight. It is becoming the lowest cost option to generate electricity. Solar importantly avoids most liabilities of burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas.

The message I hope these politicians take away from such appearances is government action is required to reduce carbon emissions in Iowa and elsewhere. Replacing coal and natural gas generating capacity with solar arrays is a way to do that.

We can install solar arrays on our homes, contributing to reduction of air pollution. Government regulation of our air and water quality is more important than individual action when it comes to reducing use of fossil fuels.

Focus on individual actions diverts our attention from what’s most important: what only government can address. Let’s remind our politicians we need government action this Earth Day.

~ Published in Little Village on April 13, 2021

Categories
Environment

Earth Day 2021

Woman Writing Letter

Earth Day is upon us. We should do something to note the occasion. Things like plant a tree or garden, or get together with neighbors to volunteer in our community come immediately to mind. I want to do those and more.

An individual can do a lot to improve the environment. We are past the point of relying solely on individual actions to address environmental problems.

The non-profit Conservation Coalition recently posted video of Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks. She said, “We don’t talk about very simple things that we can do that will allow us to both clean our environment, have a better environment, let people enjoy nature, but then also will be very productive and low cost going into the future.”

Individuals can do more. However, reducing acid rain, to which she referred in the video, was accomplished neither by an individual, nor was it low cost. Acid rain was addressed by George H.W. Bush signing the 1990 Clean Air Act.

We need more environmental accountability driven by the Congress, specifically by Chuck Grassley, Joni Ernst and Miller-Meeks. Focus on individual actions diverts our attention from what’s most important: the issues only government can address. We need focus on government action this Earth Day.

~ Published by the Cedar Rapids Gazette on April 13, 2021

Categories
Environment

Environment

1970 Earth Day Button

Where does society stand as Earth Day approaches? On shaky ground.

The Iowa legislature was unable to pass a revised bottle bill this year. Grocers and other retailers have wanted out of the responsibility to accept recycled cans and bottles since the beginning in 1978. If the legislature passes anything, it would be to relieve them of this duty once and for all. That’s how we roll in Iowa under Republican rule.

The problem with any of the states that has a bottle bill is not the amount of deposit, recycler handling fees, or the decision which containers are covered. It is that even with the best programs too much plastic, glass and metal finds its way into the waste stream. For Pete’s sake, it’s raining microplastics and the ocean is inundated with the stuff. Bottle bills create a diversion from the problem of regulating manufacturers, they assert that consumers are responsible for this form of pollution. Blaming consumers is an old sawhorse originating in the industry-backed Crying Indian campaign of 1971. If you are of a certain age, you’ll recognize this commercial.

Iowa is a state that does not care about the quality of our water except to comply with public drinking water standards. We have more livestock than people here and between manure runoff, field drainage tile, and surface runoff, our list of impaired waters is very high. Just this month, Iowa Department of Natural Resources approved a cattle feedlot in the watershed of a pristine trout stream.

“IDNR’s refusal to disapprove the plan submitted by Supreme Beef shows the sad state of affairs in Iowa when it comes to animal feeding operations. State laws and the DNR both prioritize new concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) over protecting our streams, rivers, and lakes,” Iowa Environmental Council attorney Michael Schmidt said in a statement.

Perry Beeman, Iowa Capitol Dispatch, April 5, 2021.

There are two main components to environmental protection. Personal actions and government regulation of polluters. The largest corporations would like to see a focus on individual action because they seek to divert our attention from their corporate behaviors and what it would cost for them to improve. Elected officials? They mostly would like to avoid controversy with the electorate that put them in office. I eat a vegetarian diet, so I avoid most hog, cattle and chicken products. It’s not doing the job of environmental protection from livestock pollution.

Earth Day has become a celebration of Spring where individuals do things: clean up litter, plant a garden, or go on a bicycle ride. While personal action to improve the environment remains important, what matters more is corporate accountability, something a small group of industrialists is working hard to get us to avoid. Like the Crying Indian advertisement, they seek to distract us.

On Earth Day 2021, we must focus on holding corporate polluters accountable. That means working with elected officials to get something done to protect the environment. We’ll have to be persistent, though. In Iowa our federal elected officials don’t want to hear about holding their financial backers accountable. Even with our Republican office holders, one hopes repetition can lead to belief. Not contacting them about the environment is exactly what corporate interests want us to do.

Categories
Environment

Warm January

Open water on the driveway, Jan. 31, 2021.

This winter is shaping up to be a scary one. There has not been a substantial cold snap where the ambient temperature remains below zero for a week or more. We need that to suppress the insects living in the ground that feed on our plant life in the garden and yard when it gets warmer. Cold weather is also the best time to prune fruit trees.

It’s no surprise it’s getting warmer.

Atmospheric CO2 concentration hit 413.95 ppm at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii in December 2020. In my birth year of 1951 the global average was 311.80. There is a direct correlation between atmospheric CO2 and planetary warming. Our best hope is it’s not too late to mitigate rising CO2 levels.

According to NASA, 2020 tied 2016 as the warmest year on record in global average surface temperature. According to this chart, the rise in global surface temperature is in an accelerating upward trend since the baseline period of 1951-1980.

In the general election of 2020, Americans took a necessary step toward climate action by electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the president and vice president willing to examine and understand the science of climate change and take action. Because Biden served as Barack Obama’s vice president, he knows what to do. It would have been better to elect a stronger majority in the legislative branch of the federal government, yet we didn’t. The majority we have will serve as we can’t wait two years to increase the majority of science believers in the midterms.

The United States rejoined the Paris Agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Like the election, it’s a beginning step. The Paris Agreement is flawed, yet it is difficult to see how the world makes progress toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions without the kind of cooperation it envisioned. Our country simply must be part of the discussion.

As a single citizen, or a small family, it is difficult to see how to help. We can and should reduce our personal carbon footprint, especially by doing things that don’t require a lot of capital: use less hot water, set the furnace thermostat lower, run the air conditioner at a higher temperature, use less gasoline and natural gas, eschew air travel and long automobile trips. The coronavirus pandemic kept many of us at home and that had a direct impact on greenhouse gas emissions. Eventually we will learn to live with the coronavirus and when we do, the need to control emissions will remain.

These are scary times. One view is there is nothing to be done about all this. The apocalypse is coming and the best we can do is mitigate its impact on us as individuals. It’s a vision of doomsday preppers, isolated and remote enclaves of the wealthy, and an attitude of preserving self as the catastrophe hits. I reject this view. We are stronger together and together we should remain in mitigating the impact of climate change.

It also seems important to focus on the big picture. Political leadership is required to make progress. For some of us, such leaders won’t be as bold as we want or feel is needed. We can’t relent on our politics.

Iowa has had its recent climate-related difficulties, floods in 1993 and 2008, tornadoes, straight line wind, a derecho, and drought. At the same time row crop yields were decreased due to climate change, as in the 2012 drought, a new, diverse agriculture remains possible because of our growing conditions. Gardeners like me contribute to resolving climate change by growing more of our own food. The process would be scalable if the importance of growing more local food were more generally accepted. We do what we can with local resources and conditions. We could do more.

Scary as it is, we can’t get depressed. It is human nature to be hopeful and hope is one of our most powerful attributes. It is important to be realistic about where we stand on mitigating the effects of greenhouse gases. For the next years, the picture isn’t going to be pretty. We can’t give up. We must persist in the effort to make our communal lives better. That’s what I plan to do.

Categories
Environment Writing

Lilacs Bloom in October

Lilac blooming on Oct. 6, 2020.

2020 has been stressful for trees and shrubs. Our lilac bushes are in bloom. It’s October.

I remember when autumn colors took my breath away. Stunning reds, yellows, greens and browns spread out across the other side of the lake.

It wasn’t breath-taking this year as I jogged along the state park trail.

The trees seemed sparse. More than last year. The yellow, brown and green colors were subdued or muted, as if the forest had one hella year like the rest of us. This side of the lake, tree damage from the derecho is everywhere. As winter approaches uncertainty abounds.

One hopes for catharsis on Nov. 3 yet I don’t know. Ticket sales from Broadway performances in New York have been suspended until May 2021. It seems like forever until then.

Categories
Environment Sustainability

Midwest Derecho

Sunflower survived the derecho, as did we.

Without an anemometer it was difficult to know wind speed during Monday’s derecho. In Cedar Rapids wind speeds approached 100 miles per hour.

The last major storm of straight-line winds in 2013 caused more damage to our property than the derecho. Both were bad.

I watched the storm come in until it got so virulent we headed to our safe place on the lower level. The kitchen clock stopped at 12:34 p.m., Monday, Aug. 10. Electricity was restored at 10:14 a.m., Friday, Aug. 14, the longest outage since we moved here.

The weather system is called a derecho. Amy McKeever’s Aug. 12 article in National Geographic explains:

Derechos may not be as well known as hurricanes or tornadoes, but these rare storms can be just as powerful and destructive. Primarily seen in late spring and summer in the central and eastern United States, derechos produce walls of strong wind that streak across the landscape, leaving hundreds of miles of damage in their wake. On August 10, 2020, a derecho swept across the Midwest from South Dakota to Ohio, traveling 770 miles in 14 hours and knocking out power for more than a million people.

The term derecho—which means “straight ahead” in Spanish—was coined in 1888 by Gustavus Hinrichs, a physics professor at the University of Iowa who sought to distinguish these straight-moving winds from the swirling gusts of a tornado. Though the term disappeared from use shortly afterward, meteorologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) resurrected it a hundred years later. It entered the public lexicon in 2012, when one of the most destructive derechos in history swept across roughly 700 miles from Ohio to the mid-Atlantic coast, killing 22 people and causing serious damage in metropolitan areas, including Chicago and Washington, D.C.

NOAA officially defines a derecho as “a widespread, long-lived windstorm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms.” For a swath of storms to be classified as a derecho, it must travel at least 240 miles and move at speeds of at least 58 miles an hour, though the winds are often more powerful. The August 2020 Midwest derecho had winds up to 112 miles an hour.

I have more to say about this storm and the damage it did. Suffice it for now the storm hit hard the trees I’ve grown from saplings. The Pin Oak took the brunt of the wind damage, the windward side losing several of its main branches. The Red Delicious apple tree lost a major limb, the Locust tree blew completely over demolishing the most productive part of the summer garden. Half of the pear crop shook loose from the tree dropping unusable green fruit. Among the wreckage on the ground I found a single Earliblaze apple. I hadn’t noticed we had any apples this year. I ate the apple on the spot. It was delicious (apple joke).

We survived the storm with no damage to our house. I watched the portable greenhouse shake loose four 50-pound buckets of sand, lift into the air, and tumble off into a neighbor’s yard, destroyed. Without electricity I couldn’t can the tomato harvest so I donated 25 pounds to the local food rescue operation.

We are now veterans of two major wind events and developed a process to cope with the aftermath.

Because of the long electricity outage, we became owners of a Craftsman generator which we used to keep the freezer and refrigerator running, as well as to charge devices, run computers, operate a floor fan, and heat water. We plan to keep it.

We had the septic tank pumped for additional capacity in case of an extended electrical outage. The septic service showed up just as electricity was restored.

We hired a U.S. military veteran from Alabama to help cut damaged branches from the Pin Oak. The yard is filled with fallen branches waiting for me to cut them up for firewood or for burning. A big portion of the fallen Locust tree remains on the garden. I’m not sure when I’ll get to that.

I didn’t realize it at the time but the clouds in this photo are the front edge of the derecho blowing in. It will be a while before we recover. We will recover.

Derecho Approaches Aug. 10, 2020.